The lights are on
Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2014 is by all means, an excellent game that is marred by some strange development choices. (Keep in mind that I am new to the MtG scene, so I am not writing this for veterans, but for those that are new, just as me).
If you are new, just as I am, the tutorial does a great job putting you through the paces, showing you (albeit painfully slowly) how to use the varied number of cards, card abilities, and even some basic strategy. By the time you are done, you will be able to make your way through the campaign with ease.
From the strategy and combat point of view, Planeswakers is robust. The number of cards in each pre-made deck is large, making the number of strategies within a single deck quite varied. Add to it unlockable cards (you gain a new one per victory) and your strategy can improve. However, and because they are premade, many cards are repeats that you already have from the beginning and at moments feel like they are not worth the effort. I found the Sliver deck (creatures I am fond off) quite lacking as the number of slivers are limited and the deck (even with the unlockable cards) did not sport the variety of sliver that are currently available in the actual card game.
There are unlockable pre-made decks (winning a campaign match usually unlocks one), and your repertoire of pre-made decks can swell quickly. In addition, for those that like to earn things within a game, there are titles, personas (very nicely drawn avatars) and achievements.
Challenges change the pace of the game, as they put your strategy making to the test with basic and advanced 1-turn-to-win pre-made puzzle situations (such as getting past a wall of creatures and killing the opponent), however these puzzles are small in number and you can't get done with them in less than a couple of hours.
The campaign is barely above generic. The player is given a few pieces of dialogue, some very nicely drawn cinematics (each lasting a few seconds), some change in scenery to compliment the current AI's theme, and nothing else. And while the AI can be a good opponent, sheer luck can turn a match from slightly challenging, into a breeze.
When it comes to multiplayer, here is where the game commits the largest number of aggravations. First, the serves have a painfully long log-in delay, which can turn into an exercise in frustration when you get kicked out of a game, the server boots you out to the main menu once again, or your opponent disconnects. Second, the layout of the lobby is simply bad. You got create or join a match. When you create a match, you sit until the game is able to log in a player (snooze fest), if he leaves the match, you are going to have to wait yet again. Once the match is done (the match itself runs fine, with some rather odd fps freezes every now and then), you are once again sitting with your current opponent in the lobby. This is fine if you want to play the same guy over and over again, but if you are looking for another opponent, you either need to kick the current one out (which is rude), ask him to leave (which can trigger a rude answer), or leave your own match. Anyway you look at it, it is yer another waste of time as you have to go through the molasses slow server speed. Joining a match is the same but from the other side of the mirror.
A lesser set of gripes come from things like In-game Chat is awkwardly positioned in the middle of the screen, rather than one of the sides where empty space abounds (and you cannot reposition it). Another one is how everything is set up in the main menu. The Deck Manager tab allows you to manage the cards in your pre-made decks, but not the ones from Sealed Play. For this, you need to go to single player, open sealed play, and then manage then. But once you are done, you need to exit single player, and go to multiplayer, etc etc, makes no sense.
Now the reason why I think Planeswalkers 2014 is freedom without freedom is because of Sealed Play mainly. Sealed Play is a feature that allows players to create their own decks from a set of random generated cards they get. I think 84 initially, with 3 additional booster packs won in the Sealed Play campaign. You get to do this up to 5 times (2 free slots each with its own set of cards and booster packs, and 3 additional slots for $1.99 each). It seems like a cool design, however the problem radicates in the fact that you cannot trade the cards you get between slots. Let's say in slot one you get some sweet white creature cards that become enhanced with enchatments, and in slot 2 you get the enchantments that work perfect with the creatures of slot one, then you are out of luck, because you cannot trade them. Simple as that.
In my case, I got an interesting set of cards in both slots, however, in slot 1 I only got enough cards to make a functional black deck. All the other cards on that slot have so little synergy, or simply do not complement each other. So now I am stuck with a black deck in slot one and cannot change it in any other way. Same goes for slot 2 where I can make a red/blue deck, or a red/black deck. All other cards in the pool, also cannot be used to make a functional deck. What's the best part? I wanted to build a green deck and cannot do it in either slot.
And there is where the lack of freedom becomes evident. Sure, you can get lucky and get some amazing cards if you purchase slots 3,4, and 5, but the luck factor alone makes it not worthy. I would rather prefer being able to purchase booster packs with real currency rather. It is a strange design choice to me. But if you go to multiplayer and play sealed play, there is a chance that you are going to get trounced by players that had better luck than you, making any strategy you come up with, pretty much useless.
Again, Duels is a great game (no argument there) but it is plagued by numerous strange choices. If you are okay with the pre-made decks and their pre-made flexibility, then the game is going to have high replayability for you. If you are looking for an experience close to the real deal, then you are better off trying Magic Online (albeit you are going to be dealing with some serious pros), or the actual card game, because, just as it happened to me, Duels will lose its charm after a week or so of using the same cards again, and again, and again, and again.
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